Open Thread: The Best Notebooks

When we talked about the best pens a few weeks ago (which I’m still in the process of trying out — many of the ones mentioned by the readers were subsequently sent to me by Jet Pens, so thank you! — others I’ve bought myself) some of the readers noted that we should also talk about notebooks. This took me a wee bit by surprise, I realized, because I feel so strongly about my notebook choice — so I’m really curious to hear what the other ones that people love.

Mead Composition notebookMy favorite notebook is your simple, cheap, Mead Composition notebook, at least for use at my personal desk. I like how the pages stay together no matter what, and how the book can take a beating and still hold up. I’ve spilled coffee on these notebooks, doodled on them, ripped out pages, photocopied them — and they still hold up incredibly well.  I’ve used them for years to keep track of personal things — I still have the notebook containing my budget from back in my lean days, right out of college! — but when I switched jobs from a big firm to a small not-for-profit I rediscovered my love for this kind of notebook because I think it’s great for when you have multiple small projects going on and you just want everything in one place.  I tend to only have one notebook at a time — the front part of the book (at least the first page going forward) is for business stuff, and the last page going backwards is for personal things.  I’m also incredibly ADD when I get on phone calls, whether for business or personal matters, and I find that it helps me to focus if I’m “taking notes” during the call, even if it’s something as simple as arranging a furniture delivery.

I’ve used the Mead notebook for professional purposes as well — taking notes at some small meetings and big conferences — but I’m undecided on whether they look “professional” enough to actually be used for this purpose.  For example, I remember taking my battered Mead notebook with me to a big Style Coalition/Elle meeting last year and feeling like my notebook was somehow too shabby and out of place among all the sleek, lovely notebooks the other bloggers had.  To be honest, I would probably just grab a clean pad of paper the next time I had to go to such a meeting (if I knew there would be too many notes to take them on my phone).

Other systems I’ve used over the years:
– In college and law school (although I got a laptop by January of my 1L year), I preferred to use looseleaf paper, which I would eventually bind in one of those slim folders with binder clips in the middle(usually at the end of each day, but at least once a week).  I just carried around a clipboard full of about 50 sheets of loose papers, and when I finished a class or seminar move the pages I’d filled to the back of the clipboard.  This saved me from having to take notes for Class X in Class Y’s notebook (let alone notes for Club Z — the horror! can you imagine?) and also allowed me to start drafting homework assignments, letters, and even some creative writing attempts without impinging on anything else’s space.

– At the law firm, I found that I preferred to have one legal pad per case.  I would take notes from reading the papers and filings in the notepad, grab it to go with me to meetings, and file it with my other case notes and research.  This turned out to be helpful a few times when a major case would “die,” only to rear its ugly head a few months later (long after I’d expunged all thoughts of it from my head).  For a while I tried to adopt a system where I had a nice leather-bound “Trapper Keeper” kind of thing that I took with me to longer meetings (particularly handy because I could “stock it” with Post-It Notes, tape flags, business cards, and even lip gloss), but ultimately I just preferred the simple yellow legal pad system.

– For my personal diary or journal, I’ve always tried to buy pretty books that have meaning to me; they’re usually cloth or leather-bound.  I’ve bought them anywhere from museum shops to open-air markets to specialty stationery shops.  I like how they’re all different.

I’ve tried other brands and systems — such as keeping a Moleskine in my purse for on-the-fly notes — but I’m just never impressed with how they hold up, so I prefer to  take on-the-fly notes in my phone (such as during my recent fun with 5 sessions of a Lamaze class) usually either synced through my calendar or with my new “notes” application, B-Folders.  (I know a lot of readers sing the praises of Evernote, but I prefer to keep personal things out of the cloud if I can.)  Spiral bound notebooks I have completely forsaken — I hate the way the pages get harder to turn as you fill up the notebook, I hate the way the spiral doesn’t hold up (and frequently gets pokey in a mean, aggressive way), and I hate the way they don’t pack flat (and “dent” other papers, folders, and books) if you’re packing them away in boxes.

Readers, what are your favorite notebooks? How do you use them differently?



  1. I all the time used to study article in news papers but now as I am a user of web thus from now
    I am using net for articles, thanks to web.

  2. I love reading about what notebooks you’re using successfully! I’ve gained some useful tidbits from reading everyone’s comments, so thanks for sharing.

    I use one composition notebook for all of my meetings and a yellow 8 1/2 x 11 pad for writing down to dos as they come up (yellow sticks out on my desk so I can find the pad quickly) until I can get them on my calendar. My office uses Outlook and I take full advantage of my calendar to keep track of EVERYTHING (deadlines, calls to make, conference calls, personal appointments (marked private so others can see I have an appointment but not the details), meetings, travel, recurring tasks, delegated items, and more). I created categories and color code things like deadlines, calls/conference calls, travel, and private appointments so they stick out. Each Friday, I preview the next week so I know what my schedule looks like and what I can expect.

    I also have a steno pad on my desk. I draw about a 1″ line to create a margin on the left on each page, which I use to write dates/times of meetings once I get them scheduled or a check mark next to a note for something I’ve completed. I write the date each day on the right and take notes for the day (e.g. if someone stops by to give me an update on a project, the boss provides info). Then I skip a few lines and write the next day’s date; repeat. One steno pad lasts the whole year and creates a great record.

    I keep to these three notebooks, which are all provided by my office, for simplicity. I know what I’m looking for and where to find it.

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